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The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

by Stephen Crane

Other authors: Carl Van Doren

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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11,053127605 (3.44)350
Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML:

Hailed as one of American literature's most influential works, The Red Badge of Courage has a young recruit facing the trials and cruelties of war. Stephen Crane's 1895 novel is set in the American Civil War. Private Henry Fleming flees from battle and his battalion, considering all lost. Stumbling upon injured soldiers, he feels the shame of deserting and of not possessing the "red badge of courage", the wounds of war. But later when Henry rejoins his regiment and is ordered into a hopeless battle, he finds a chance to finally prove his courage as a man.

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First published in 1895, America's greatest novel of the Civil War was written before 21-year-old Stephen Crane had "smelled even the powder of a sham battle." But this powerful psychological study of a young soldier's struggle with the horrors, both within and without, that war strikes the reader with its undeniable realism and with its masterful descriptions of the moment-by-moment riot of emotions felt by men under fire.
  PlumfieldCH | Oct 14, 2023 |
Good tale of a youth, Henry Fleming, and his exploits in the American Civil War. Followed by a short story called 'The Veteran', about Henry as an old man. ( )
  cbinstead | Oct 1, 2023 |
[The Red Badge of Courage] was an introspective examination of himself by a soldier facing action in a realistically portrayed battle of the Civil War. His thoughts range from glory to shame to a worn pride. ( )
  snash | Jun 19, 2023 |
The Red Badge of Courage assails from the very first line – "The cold passed reluctantly from the earth" – and doesn't let up until the sun appears through cloud on the final page, two days of battle later. Short on character and short on plot, author Stephen Crane's obsession here is with the sensory experience of battle, told from the perspective of a young American Civil War soldier about to fight his first action.

This it does very well. The young Crane didn't have any experience of battle (he wrote the novel at 24 and died of tuberculosis at 28) but you wouldn't know it from The Red Badge of Courage. He is excellent at portraying the thoughts a young man can spin for himself, as his protagonist, Henry Fleming, ties himself in knots and becomes his own worst enemy, rationalises his fears and his actions, and emerges from the emotional wringer altered in some unquantifiable ways. For all that Crane had no war experience – and was criticised for this from other writers of his time, including Civil War veterans – it is a very honest book. One can imagine the book as a thought experiment, with Crane imagining: 'How would it feel if I, green as I am, were to find myself in a battle? Would I stand it, or would I run?'

Crane must've had a very vivid imagination to be able to concoct this so successfully, and he grants this dubious boon to his protagonist. It is Henry's active imagination which encourages him to enlist – he has naïve, romantic dreams of glory and is disappointed when his crying mother says "nothing whatever about returning with his shield or on it", in the manner of the Spartan three hundred (pg. 13). It is this same imagination which unmans him when he's stood there, cold and afraid, facing powder and shot and the rebel yell. Crane is particularly good at the chaos of fighting, and the effects this has on the men fighting it. An exhausting march discourages the ranks of soldiers more than an enemy artillery barrage; a large part of young Henry's struggle is against the dangerous thoughts which intrude upon him in the moments of frenzied anticipation before battle even begins.

It is this lack of agency, not only for Henry but for the rest of the rank-and-file, which makes the war so hellish for them, and The Red Badge of Courage an early anti-war novel of the modern sensibility. The men are pushed from field to field, hill to hill, skirmish to skirmish, not knowing what they are meant to be doing – still less why – and this drains their courage. "It had begun to seem to them that events were trying to prove that they were impotent" (pg. 135). Ironically, it is only when they are cornered and have no options that they – both the protagonist and the soldiers as a unit – launch a successful charge and perform a collective heroic feat. In this ramshackle hell, this confusing "land of strange, squalling upheavals" (pg. 155) where officers are trying to impose some sort of order like "shepherds struggling with sheep" (pg. 123), we see the baldness of battlefield courage: too often, you didn't know what you were doing, and heroism or cowardice was only a label you could apply afterwards. If you survived.

Despite this success, Crane's book can be said to hinder itself by focusing so completely on this one aspect of writing. Though short, the book feels long and draining, as it is almost entirely descriptive writing with little in the way of plot and character. The absence of plot is forgivable, considering the nature of the piece. And our protagonist, Henry, gets some character development, of course – how could he not, when we are privy to his every thought and emotional response? – but his comrades do not. The moments when other soldiers die, or crawl away injured, should carry more emotional weight than they do, even as pen-portraits. For all his savant-like success in depicting battle, Crane's writing does have this noticeable imbalance of the inexperienced writer. Its descriptive writing is often good, but without economy: Crane catalogues each and every sensation, and won't move on from one sensation to another until he has described it in half-a-dozen ways. Nevertheless, it would be hard for even a supremely experienced writer to balance all this in a battle scenario, where chaos is the norm and a "number of emotions and events [are] crowded into such little space" (pg. 137). The book gets its intensity from this confined, bottle-like pressure, and to appreciate a book like this one you have to accept there are some things the author chooses not to do.

It is the emotional maelstrom, completely devoid of romance, combined with the general sensory experience of battle – its colours, its smoke and error, its fatigue – which is the greatest success of The Red Badge of Courage. But there are also other whispers of what would become the modern anti-war novel: the senior officer who glibly orders the men into an almost-certain-death manoeuvre as a mere feint, "speaking of the regiment as if he referred to a broom" (pg. 122), or the awareness of the battle's ultimate futility: "Individuals must have supposed that they were cutting the letters of their names deep into everlasting tablets or brass, or enshrining their reputations forever in the hearts of their countrymen, while, as to fact, the affair would appear in printed reports under a meek and immaterial title" (pg. 62). But in Crane's hands the title is far from meek and immaterial, and his prototypical success could be said to pave the way for modern war novelists like Remarque, Hemingway and the English war poets. Not bad for a 24-year-old New Yorker with no experience of battle. ( )
1 vote MikeFutcher | Jan 15, 2023 |
Courageousness story
  eraj-riaz18 | Sep 5, 2022 |
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» Add other authors (51 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Crane, StephenAuthorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Van Doren, Carlsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Berryman, JohnContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Binder, HenryEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bottino, PatNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bowers, FredsonEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Bradbury, MalcolmEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Brick, ScottNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Canga, C.B.Illustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Covici Jr., PascalIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Cummings, SherwoodIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davis, LincolnEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Davray, Henry-D.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dressler, RogerNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dufris, WilliamNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Engene, GeneNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Foote, ShelbyIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gibson, Donald B.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Green, FrankEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Haldeman, JoeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Harad, AlyssaSupplementary materialsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Heald, AnthonyNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Herzberg, Max J.Afterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Homer, WinslowIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
James, AngelaBookbindersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Jenseth, RichardIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kazin, AlfredIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kidder, HarveyIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
LaRocca, Charles J.Contributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levenson, J.C.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Levy, Wilbert J.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lindsay, JenBookbindersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lubett, DeniseBookbindersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Maxwell, John AllanCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Minor, WendellIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Misiego, MicaelaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mozley, CharlesIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Muller, FrankNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Otero, BenCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Paysac, Henry dePréfacesecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Perkins, Patricia BarrettForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Pratt, SeanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Reichardt, Mary R.Editorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sanders, CharlesNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sorrentino, PaulEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stallman, Robert W.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stone, RobertIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Suamarez Smith, RomillyBookbindersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Thomas, RichardNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Van Doren, CarlIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vedro, Alfred S.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Viélé-Griffin, FrancisTraductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Watson, Aldren AuldIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Winterich, John T.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting.
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He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML:

Hailed as one of American literature's most influential works, The Red Badge of Courage has a young recruit facing the trials and cruelties of war. Stephen Crane's 1895 novel is set in the American Civil War. Private Henry Fleming flees from battle and his battalion, considering all lost. Stumbling upon injured soldiers, he feels the shame of deserting and of not possessing the "red badge of courage", the wounds of war. But later when Henry rejoins his regiment and is ordered into a hopeless battle, he finds a chance to finally prove his courage as a man.

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